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Trump says he’s not testifying in his civil fraud trial Monday

By Jeremy Herb and Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump wrote on his social media platform Sunday that he is no longer planning to testify in his civil fraud trial in New York on Monday.

Trump had been expected to return to court Monday to testify in an effort to bolster his defense against allegations he fraudulently inflated the value of his properties, after he was questioned by the New York attorney general’s office last month. But the former president wrote in a lengthy message on Truth Social that he “WILL NOT BE TESTIFYING ON MONDAY,” while continuing to attack the attorney general’s case against him and the judge overseeing it.

Trump had already testified once in the trial, but his appearance Monday would have given him a chance to speak at length while being questioned by his lawyers about his business and properties, and to attack the attorney general’s allegations against him. While the case does not involve criminal charges, the complaint from the attorney general, a Democrat, is personal to Trump – the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 – because it hits at his brand directly.

The last-minute reversal comes as the trial is expected to conclude this week, after 11 weeks of testimony. A decision is not expected until early next year.

The judge has already found that a decade of Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent. He will decide how much money Trump will pay and whether he and his two adult sons can conduct business in the state.

Trump’s appearance last month turned the witness stand into a campaign stop, with the judge imploring him to answer questions and leave politics outside the courtroom. Still, Trump did testify that he had some involvement in the financial statements and that banks relied on them, but that he relied on his accountants.

“President Trump has already testified,” Trump attorney Chris Kise said in a statement Sunday explaining Trump’s decision not to appear Monday. He said the former president’s prior testimony and that of other witnesses made their case and that there was “no valid reason” for Trump to return to the witness stand.

“Donald Trump already testified in our financial fraud case against him,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement Sunday. “Whether or not Trump testified again tomorrow, we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from reality, the facts don’t lie.”

Had he testified Monday, Trump would have been operating under a gag order imposed by Judge Arthur Engoron barring commentary about the judge’s staff. The gag order – which Engoron has fined Trump twice for violating – was put in place after the former president attacked the judge’s clerk on his social media.

The gag order, however, was not relevant to Trump’s testimony, which would have focused on his company and the case itself. It simply barred him from discussing the judge’s clerk, whom Trump and his attorney have accused of being biased against the former president.

Trump attorney Alina Habba said Thursday that she had recommended Trump not testify because of the gag order.

“He still wants to take the stand even though my advice is at this point you should never take the stand with a gag order. But he is so firmly against what is happening in this court,” she said.

Trump’s attorneys have appealed Engoron’s gag order, though it remains in place. Last week, Trump’s attorneys asked the judge to postpone his testimony in the defense case until the gag order is decided by the appeals court, which the judge denied.

“There is really nothing more to say to a Judge who has imposed an unconstitutional gag order and thus far appears to have ignored President Trump’s testimony and that of everyone else involved in the complex financial transactions at issue in the case,” Kise said in his statement.

When Trump was questioned by the New York attorney general’s office last month, his combative testimony drew rebukes from Engoron for ignoring the questions and instead attacking the attorney general, the judge and the case itself. 

James is seeking $250 million in damages and to bar Trump from conducting business in the state. The attorney general’s complaint accuses Trump, his adult sons and his company of fraudulently inflating the values of his properties to obtain more favorable loan and insurance rates.

Following Trump’s surprise announcement Sunday, a clerk for the court told CNN that court will be dark Monday. Proceedings will resume Tuesday as scheduled, and Eli Bartov, an accounting expert whom Trump came to see testify last week, will face cross-examination from the attorney general’s office.

The attorney general’s office will then call rebuttal witnesses, who are expected to include another expert and a former employee of Trump International Realty. After that, each side has until January 5 to file briefs with Engoron. Closing arguments will take place January 11.

Trump has attended the trial several times, including Thursday, when Bartov testified for the defense.

Speaking outside the courtroom last week, Trump complained that he was in New York instead of campaigning in one of the early swing states, even though he was attending voluntarily.

“I should be right now in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina. I shouldn’t be sitting in a courthouse,” Trump said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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